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  • Bryan Jernigan

I Had Help Along the Way...

Non-artists and artists alike are often surprised to learn that I don't have a formal degree in art. In fact, because I attended such a small public high school that didn't offer art, I never took an art class until I got to graduate school.

While not wading into the myths and facts or the pros and cons of getting an art degree, I wanted to share that I've found that not having a degree hasn't hurt my art career. That said, I do hold a day job as a communications director for an international association located near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

That last fact often leads people to ask, "How do you find time to do all that you do artistically?" Or more poinrtedly, "When do you sleep?"

The answer to the first question is I conscientiously make the time (note to self: another topic for another blog post!). The answer to the second is rarely ever. LOL.

I've been very fortunate to have a loving and supportive family who understands my need to continue to hone my art skills and my desire to share them with others through artistic creation and teaching.

The truth is even though I'm not formally trained in art, I've learned an immense amount from reading about art techniques and about the lives of artists I admire, and I wouldn't trade that for a formal education in art. Now, that's not to say I have never taken an art class - to the contrary, every chance I got in college to take an elective, I almost always opted for art of some kind. I suffered through critique sessions (one reason I chose not to even minor in art!) and have dabbled in everything from drawing and sketching to oil painting, but in the end, I relied on authors to reveal their secrets to me and I've gained so much from that creative choice.


I often found that in the few formal classes I did take, I ended up painting or drawing just like the teacher, and that, for me, was very frustrating (that's one reason I love teaching abstract painting - because you can't really copy the instructor). From a very young age, I always wanted to learn from teachers and apply my learning in my own way, to create my own voice and to follow my own passions and pursuits.

So, I've always found books to be a trove of deep learning. They help me because I can immerse myself in them, take each one at my own pace and analyze how what's being taught could apply to what I'm doing creatively.

Instead of being influenced by a particular instructor, I used (and still use) books to dive deeply into the areas I find most fulfilling in areas in which I want to become an expert. For me, those areas whittled themselves down through a bit of natural selection to pastel painting and abstract painting. Within those genres, I love landscapes, sometimes paint non-representationally and recently have found an appreciation for still life.

My process has always been to work on something representational and then cycle into something more abstract. Each takes a different set of skills and each provides me great joy in different ways. I've often had fellow artists tell me I must choose one genre over another to explore deeply the one I chose, but that's not been my experience. I love learning. Pure and simple. And sometimes I'm just not in the mood to paint representationally. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is to create something abstract. And that's okay. Within a self-imposed limited framework, there are so many possibilities to explore, there's not a day that goes by that I'm bored. Finding my "things" has been a creative gold mine!

But getting back to books...

Looking at the shelves in my studio, there easily must been at least 100 books in them - all on art or creativity - but if pressed, there are a few that I return to again and again. They are not only inspiring, but I pick up new things each time I crack them open.

So I thought I'd share them with you to see if you can see how they relate to the work I create.

In no particular order, here goes...

Steal Like an Artist - Austin Kleon

An inspiring guide to creativity in the digital age, Steal Like an Artist presents ten transformative principles that will help readers discover their artistic side and build a more creative life. Nothing is original, so embrace influence, school yourself through the work of others, remix and reimagine to discover your own path. Follow interests wherever they take you—what feels like a hobby may turn into your life’s work. Forget the old cliché about writing what you know: Instead, write the book you want to read, make the movie you want to watch. And finally, stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring in the everyday world so that you have the space to be wild and daring in your imagination and your work.

Trust the Process - An Artist's Guide to Letting Go - Shaun McNiff

Whether in painting, poetry, performance, music, dance, or life, there is an intelligence working in every situation. This force is the primary carrier of creation. If we trust it and follow its natural movement, it will astound us with its ability to find a way through problems—and even make creative use of our mistakes and failures. There is a magic to this process that cannot be controlled by the ego. Somehow it always finds the way to the place where you need to be, and a destination you never could have known in advance. When everything seems as if it is hopeless and going nowhere . . . trust the process.

Clear Seeing Place - Brian Rutenberg

From the salt marshes and moss-draped live oaks of the South Carolina Lowcountry to the New York art world, Clear Seeing Place takes the reader behind the studio door to explore the making of a painter in intimate detail. Brimming with the joy of process and a love of art history, Brian Rutenberg reveals the places, people, and experiences that led to the paintings for which he is well known today. This book is packed with ideas, observations, techniques, and career advice all thoughtfully arranged into six sections designed to inspire artists of all levels, as well as anyone interested in creativity. Clear Seeing Place is a companion to the artist’s popular YouTube series, “Brian Rutenberg Studio Visits,” and is a love letter to painting written by a painter.

Landscape Painting - Mitchell Albala

Because nature is so expansive and complex, so varied in its range of light, landscape painters often have to look further and more deeply to find form and structure, value patterns and an organized arrangement of shapes. In Landscape Painting, Mitchell Albala shares his concepts and practices for translating nature's grandeur, complexity, and color dynamics into convincing representations of space and light. Concise, practical, and inspirational, Landscape Painting focuses on the greatest challenges for the landscape artist, such as: Simplification and Massing: Learn to reduce nature's complexity by looking beneath the surface of a subject to discover the form's basic masses and shapes. Color and Light: Explore color theory as it specifically applies to the landscape, and learn the various strategies painters use to capture the illusion of natural light. Selection and Composition: Learn to select wisely from nature's vast panorama. Albala shows you the essential cues to look for and how to find the most promising subject from a world of possibilities. The lessons in Landscape Painting based on observation rather than imitation and applicable to both plein air and studio practice are accompanied by painting examples, demonstrations, photographs and diagrams. Illustrations draw from the work of more than 40 contemporary artists and such masters of landscape painting as John Constable, Sanford Gifford and Claude Monet. Based on Albala's 25 years of experience and the proven methods taught at his successful plein air workshops, this in-depth guide to all aspects of landscape painting is a must-have for anyone getting started in the genre, as well as more experienced practitioners who want to hone their skills or learn new perspectives.

An Introduction to Painting Landscapes - Ted Gould

An Introduction to Painting Landscapes is an instructional and practical guide for artists of all experience levels, though familiarity with the most basic fundamentals of art is presumed. Chapters cover the materials and equipment needed, basic painting techniques for different media, sketching, handling the complexities of color and light, issues of composition and more. Full color illustrations on every page walk the reader through the creation process, and give examples of techniques discussed. An excellent, hands-on guide.

David Park, Painter - Helen Park Bigelow

A half century after his death, David Park (1911-1960) is recognized as one of America's most important twentieth-century painters. He was the first of the brilliant post-World War II generation of artists to break with Abstract Expressionism's hegemony and return to painting recognizable subjects, most powerfully the human figure. Park's original cohorts of Bay Area Figurative painters were his close friends Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and Hassel Smith. All outlived him—Smith by nearly fifty years—and enjoyed recognition and fame during their lifetimes. Park's reputation is just now fully coming into its own. In David Park, Painter, Park's younger daughter, writer Helen Park Bigelow, paints a mesmerizing, deeply moving portrait of her father's life and early, difficult death. Park left high school in New England without graduating and came west to paint. He married Lydia (Deedie) Newell when he was nineteen and was the father of two by the time he was twenty-two. We are brought into a family rich with moral conviction, ingenuity, smart and gifted friends, music and art: four complex people guided and inspired by values of integrity. Those same values guided and inspired David Park's painting. Yet this is much more than an artist biography. David Park, Painter is a skillful blend of memoir and observations about life in the Bay Area just before and just after World War II, when some of America's most original, even radical, artists and writers gathered there. This close-up portrayal is unlike other accounts of artists. It is the story of a family built on the love and dedication of one man who held nothing back from his art, and of the spirit of the wife and daughters who supported him.

The Paintings of Joan Mitchell - Jane Livingston

Joan Mitchell (1926-1992) was one of the few women among the first-rank Abstract Expressionist painters. She outpaced all but a handful of her male mentors and counterparts. Although well regarded by critics, fellow artists, and the general public, Mitchell's achievement has never received full recognition. This exquisitely illustrated volume and the exhibition that it accompanies restore the artist to her rightful place in the history of American painting. Spanning Mitchell's entire career, from early works of 1951 until the year of her death, The Paintings of Joan Mitchell includes a wealth of breathtaking paintings, both intimate and grand in scale, that reveal Mitchell's fierce dedication to her art and reflect both the struggles and the artistic triumphs she achieved with her distinctive vision of Abstract Expressionism. Jane Livingston draws on the artist's personal papers, including her journals and extensive correspondence, to provide an illuminating interpretation of the artist and her work. Linda Nochlin, who was a friend of Mitchell, discusses the artist's experience working in a field dominated by men. A third text by Whitney Curator Yvette Lee explores a distinctive and little-known suite of paintings entitled La Grande Vallée, created in 1983-84. This book includes an exhibition history; an extensive artist bibliography of related monographs, reviews, and filmed interviews; and color plates and listing of all the works appearing in the exhibition.

Richard Diebenkorn - Sarah Bancroft

This stunning exhibition catalogue celebrates in-depth for the first time Richard Diebenkorn’s seminal Ocean Park works, serving as a major reference and a source of new scholarship on the series. As he traversed the worlds of abstract expressionism and figurative painting, Diebenkorn became one of America’s most beloved postwar artists. The Ocean Park series, begun in 1967 and comprising works in a variety of media, is arguably the most celebrated of his illustrious career. This book features beautifully reproduced works that radiate with color, allowing readers to appreciate the artist’s evolving palette as well as his brilliant geometric explorations. The paintings, prints, drawings, and collages that make up the series are examined from diverse perspectives in essays that bring to light new influences and conceptual frameworks that reposition the Ocean Park series, as well as the artist’s role in the history of postwar art. The result is a timely re-examination of a major body of work that will excite the numerous fans of this quintessential California artist.

Matisse Diebenkorn - Janet Bishop and Katherine Rothkopf

This sumptuously illustrated book brings together the work of Henri Matisse and Richard Diebenkorn as never before, illuminating unexpected resonances that connect the two artists across time and space. Featuring stunning pairings of more than 80 paintings and drawings, this book charts the evolution of Matisse’s impact on Diebenkorn over the course of Diebenkorn’s career. Though they never met, Matisse was an enduring source of inspiration for the Californian artist, and their works share surprising similarities in subject, composition, palette and technique. Essays by Janet Bishop and Katherine Rothkopf explore how this influence evolved over time, connecting the work of the two painters and highlighting the ways Diebenkorn drew from Matisse’s example to forge a style entirely his own. The volume is rounded out by an introduction by John Elderfield, who knew Diebenkorn personally and has curated exhibitions of both artists’ work; an essay by Jodi Roberts on parallels between the artists’ drawings; and a bibliography documenting Diebenkorn’s collection of books about the French artist. The first in-depth examination of the relationship between the work of Diebenkorn and Matisse, this publication offers new ways of understanding both artists.

Wolf Kahn - Justin Spring

This second edition of the definitive book on artist Wolf Kahn adds his achievements of the past 15 years. A new essay by Karen Wilkin highlights the development of his late style, and a generous selection of paintings and pastels showcases his bold, freewheeling new work. The main text, by Justin Spring, traces Khan’s art and life to 1993. An insightful essay by Louis Finkelstein illuminates the fusion of abstraction and representation in the work. Kahn’s landscapes evoke a particular sense of place and season, yet they are also universal. His radiant hues, tangy color contrasts, and pervasive sense of light have placed him at the forefront of American representational artists.

These books are both instructive and inspirational, and while I understand not everyone's tastes match my own, they shouldn't be.

Instead, I hope a quick run through these books will help you find inspiration, but more importantly, ways you can harness the teachings here to enhance your own creative work!



Here's a good challenge...single out a few artists whose work you love and thumb through examples of their pieces. As you do, write down what about each artist's work you like. Examples could be bright colors, texture, incorporated text, ultra-simplification, figure treatments, etc. Then put the books away. Review the list you made. Think about how you can incorporate texture (or whatever you chose) in your work like those artists. Now, without looking at those artists' paintings, create a piece of your own that incorporates the words you chose. In this manner, you'll be taking the best of each artist - the things you like the most - and making a work that is unique to you! Good luck, and post some photos of what you create below!

P.S. If you are enjoying my blog, I would love it if you could share a link to it on your favorite social media pages. You can copy and paste this link: It will help me build my audience and the number of people who see these posts. Thanks!

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